TO EVERY customer that walks into the family’s Bharat Krishi Seva Kendra shop, where he sells seeds, pesticides, manure, and spray machines, Riyasat Ali Ansari, 30, hands out photocopies of the lead story in a local newspaper. The customers are mostly farmers that the Ansari family of Hindoli town, in Rajasthan’s Bundi district, has known for long. The news story quotes the Bundi Superintendent of Police “conceding that police erred” and absolving Riyasat’s father Abdul Waheed Ansari of molesting a nine-year-old, a charge on which the 80-year-old has now been in jail for 27 days. “Nirdosh (not guilty),” Riyasat declares, smiling.
A little over a month ago, a short video clip had gone viral on social media in the Hindu-majority Hindoli. The clip, shot entirely from overhead, showed an old man in a skull cap and white kurta-pyjama molesting a child. It was difficult to identify the two due to the angle of the camera as well as the poor recording quality, while there were no clues to make out the under-construction site where the attack took place. However, by late July, word had spread that the old man “resembled” Abdul Ansari and that the young child looked like a Rajput girl from the neighbourhood.
Soon, protesters, including people the Ansaris had known for long, were on the streets, demanding Abdul’s arrest. The BJP, Bajrang Dal, VHP and Karni Sena held separate protests, with stones being pelted at the Ansari house, damaging the family’s car. Police have lodged an FIR in the case.
On July 31, the father of the girl suspected to be in the video lodged a complaint at the Hindoli police station saying he recognised her from her frock. An FIR was lodged under IPC Section 376 (rape) as well as under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) against Abdul.
The same day, police picked up the 80-year-old. Recalls Shahadat Ali Ansari, 41, Abdul’s elder son, “Police took him for questioning at about 6 am but let him go. Later however, a few men, four of them journalists, started spreading rumours that we had ‘bribed’ the police.” A crowd of about 300-400 people surrounded their house. “We were scared,” says Riyasat. Police returned to arrest Abdul again the same day, and he has been in jail since. Like Riyasat, Shahadat too keeps copies of the newspaper at his shop. A picket with about 10 policemen has been stationed at their house since.
In a statement recorded before a magistrate, the girl confirmed it was her in the video. She said Abdul would come by her father’s paan shop, and once led her away on the pretext of giving toffees. She said he molested her, and repeated it thrice, threatening to kill her if she told anyone. “It was an open and shut case, with Abdul locked up for good,” says Bundi SP Adarsh Sidhu.
But sometime in the first week of August, journalists informed police that there were reports from Uttar Pradesh of the video having originated there. Sidhu says they sent a team to Bulandshahr to investigate, and “the case turned on its head overnight”.
Police found that their counterparts in UP had discovered that the video was recorded sometime in March in the pottery town of Khurja, and the molester was already behind bars. A relative of that victim had confessed to shooting the video, telling police he wanted to unmask the “sins” of the old man.
Sidhu points out that in Bundi, no one had owned up to shooting the video, despite police “accepting the demands of protesters that no action be taken against the person who recorded it”. While police are convinced now that the video is not from Bundi, Abdul’s troubles are far from over. A senior police official says they had approached the family of the girl, claiming to be in the video, to tell them it may not be her. “All the crucial facts were shared with them. Surprisingly, rather than rejoice, they did not believe it,” he says.
The official says the testimony of the girl is dubious. “While we have utmost concern for and are sensitive towards safety of children, the child has been doing a lot of flip-flops,” the official says. Police also have a video recording of the girl, sitting with her mother, uncle and police, clearly denying she was molested. She goes as far as to say she made her earlier comments after being threatened by her father. However, as an official points out, “This video has little value compared to her statement under CrPC 164 before the magistrate.”
The girl continues to stick by that statement, including to The Indian Express. “The child herself says it. How can anyone deny it? We want him (Abdul) punished,” says her mother. “She was in Class IV, she hasn’t gone to school since,” says the grandmother.
Abdul’s family says their protests that the man in the video couldn’t be him were ignored. His sons say the 80-year-old only wears kurtas with shirt-like collars and cuffs, unlike the man in the video who is wearing a plain kurta. They see it as a “conspiracy” to defame Muslims and hurt their businesses. Together, Abdul’s family and his relatives own four adjacent shops — selling groceries, seeds, insecticides and garments, as well as for tyre puncture repair — near the Hindoli bus stop. Shahadat’s shop, also selling seed and manure, is among the biggest. Besides, he owns a car, making the family well-off by Hindoli standards. The girl’s father owns a small paan shop.
“The last time Hindoli saw riots was in 1983. I was a child then,” says Abdul’s cousin Mohammad Shafi, 45, who runs a grocery store. Lamenting that they had good relations with their neighbours so far, Shahadat believes the latter are being manipulated by “crooked” elements who are jealous of their “wealth”.
Shahadat’s cousin Mohammad Sabir, 41, blames vote-bank politics. “We have always lived peacefully, but now some elements want to get ahead in politics, hence they are creating issues,” he says. BJP Hindoli mandal president Om Bhagwati Singh, who had led a protest to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate seeking action in the case, says, “I had said the matter be investigated impartially.” On the new revelations, he says, “Police will investigate.” With Bundi still tense, police are yet to take a call on letting Abdul go. “The investigation is going on as per merit,” the SP says.